This past NFL draft produced a glut of very solid running backs to NFL teams. So much so that the already increasing running back by committee (RBBC) trend intensified. Due to this, there is quite possibly the largest fantasy RB pool in recent memory. After the “big four” (Tomlinson, Peterson, Jackson and Westbrook), the next couple tier drop-offs feature a bunch of solid backs (Addai, Gore, McGahee, Portis), but it’s the contention of many that you could instead grab stud WRs (and in some cases, a certain few QBs) and wait on RB. As an example, which team would you prefer here?
RB – Rudi Johnson
RB – Kevin Smith
WR – Randy Moss
WR – Braylon Edwards
RB – Clinton Portis
RB – Ronnie Brown
WR – Calvin Johnson
WR – Bernard Berrian
With team one; you have RBs that are looking great for their teams and two sure-fire studs at WR. With team two, you have a couple of good RBs, but with injury and other concerns and two good WRs, but huge question marks. I pulled these names from one of The Huddle mock drafts, and paired up the draft positions of the two WRs from team one to the RBs of team two, and vice versa.
Unlike any fantasy season I can remember, this might just be the year you wait on RB. I know, it’s a risky proposition, but if played right, you might just wind up with an extremely strong roster by concentrating on QB, WR and possibly TE in the first 3-4 rounds and grabbing RBs with upside – such as Kevin Smith, Deuce McAllister, and Rudi Johnson – in the 5th-6th rounds.
With that said, let’s take a look at all of the NFL teams’ RB situations. As you’ll see, there are several true RBBCs, but some situations that may not classify as true RBBCs, but could net a couple of draftable RBs.
Arizona Cardinals: As much as the Cardinals like their 2008 draft pick Tim Hightower, he may not get enough work to qualify the situation as a RBBC. J.J. Arrington is also slated to get some time, but will be a situational change of pace back. Assessment: Edge may surprise some people and if you get him as a #2 RB, you might have a gem. Hightower’s the primary backup. Arrington’s so-so play over the past few years shouldn’t prompt you to take him, even as a backup in PPR leagues.
Atlanta Falcons: Woe is Jerious Norwood. This guy was highly touted as the next in line RB for the Falcons, but couldn’t even beat out the diminutive and aging Warrick Dunn. Now the Falcons have brought in super-free-agent Michael Turner. Still, many are projecting Norwood to have a role on this team. Assessment: Turner is a solid #2 fantasy RB, with upside to be a decent #1. Norwood is supposedly getting some time and might have a little value in larger PPR leagues.
Baltimore Ravens: Yeah, this is Willis McGahee's team, but they Ravens got a steal in Ray Rice this summer. Rice is going to get time, if for no other reason but McGahee's an injury risk and Rice is a capable backup. Assessment: McGahee's a #1, but with injury concerns and Rice would only be a handcuff.
Buffalo Bills: None of the Bill backups will be stealing enough time from Marshawn Lynch, although Fred Jackson did look good in his work in 2007. Assessment: Lynch is a definite #1 and the others (Jackson being the best of the bunch) are merely handcuffs.
Carolina Panthers: This is one of the teams that prompted my research into all the RBBC and RBBC-esque situations in the NFL this season. The Panthers let Deshaun Foster walk, signaling the fact they were willing to let Deangelo Williams take the reins. But then they drafted Jonathan Stewart, a power-back with ball receiving skills (a John Fox favorite). Many are touting Stewart to have the inside edge on the starting job, but don’t discount Fox’s reluctance to pull the “veteran”. Ultimately, I think Stewart puts up the better fantasy stats, but Williams could actually retain some value, and could actually put up better numbers to start the season. Assessment: Draft both. Stewart is going to put up some of the best rookie numbers this year, but don’t expect him to put those numbers up starting Week One. Williams may start the season getting 20 carries a game, so draft him, start him, but maybe look to deal him around Week Four, unless you’re fine with him being a decent backup.
Chicago Bears: Another situation that prompted this article. Like the Panthers, the Bears cut ties with their incumbent RB, Cedric Benson. They have a promising rookie in Matt Forte, but unlike his Panther contemporary, Forte looks to be the starter from day one. Adrian Peterson (the “other” one) has been solid in spot duty for the Bears, and will still get touches. The real question marks here are how the Bears will use the recently-signed Kevin Jones, and the shifty Garrett Wolfe. I think Jones was added simply as insurance, and Forte will really have to stink the Windy City up for Jones to get any significant playing time. And Wolfe is going to back Peterson up as the change of pace back. Assessment: It’s a small risk, but Forte could end up being a lower-level #1 RB. As I stated in the opening of this article, if you have a pair of stud WRs, Forte would be an acceptable #1 RB. Just back him up with Kevin Jones. And for those that miss out on Forte, Peterson might be a nice value in the late part of PPR drafts.
Cincinnati Bengals: This situation was more RBBC-esque before Rudi Johnson showed up looking spry. Chris Perry is supposedly back and ready for action, and Kenny Watson performed admirably in his role last season. For me, I'm not going to trust Chris Perry but will draft Kenny Watson as the Bengals will use Rudi as their featured back but will utilize Watson a lot on third down and in other passing situations. Assessment: Rudi's making a case for being a solid #2 fantasy RB. Watson is more than just a handcuff, especially in PPR leagues. Chris Perry is just too injury prone to rely on.
Cleveland Browns: This is just a hunch but Jamal Lewis may hurt this year. He’s had three pretty injury-free seasons, but has been used heavily in the past two seasons and could wear down. This year, though, it won't be due to over-use, as I think the Browns will use Jason Wright (and perhaps to some extent Jerome Harrison) much like their Ohio neighbors to the south will use Kenny Watson/Chris Perry. Jamal Lewis, to me, is a risky pick as a #1 RB, but some owners are making that happen. I would prefer him as a #2 or even better, as a flex back. That's not going to be possible in most leagues, though, as Lewis' value is still way up there. Assessment: Draft Lewis as a #2 if you can, but be wary that Jason Wright is going to get touches (and possibly Jerome Harrison to some extent). I like Wright in PPR leagues as a decent backup flex player.
Dallas Cowboys: And yet another situation that is very RBBC-esque, like the above two teams. The Cowboys cut bait with Julius Jones, prompting fantasy owners to tout Marion Barber as a tier-one stud RB. While this may be true, it might also be smart to temper your expectations, as Barber has been part of a two-back system since he started at the University of Minnesota. Jerry Jones got his swift Razorback RB (although he would have preferred the higher-touted one), but expect the Cowboy staff to appease the Cowboy owner by getting Felix Jones on the field. Word out of camp is that the Boys are already using Barber and Jones in various two-back sets. Assessment: Barber will more than likely turn out fine as a #1 fantasy RB, but the true value may be with Jones as that perfect flex back in PPR leagues.
Denver Broncos: The Bronco run game is not really an RBBC. It's just a confusing mess. Selvin Young is the starter but everyone's saying he can't carry a full load. I’d be more worried about Mike Shanahan's propensity to tinker more than Young's ability to carry the load. Ryan Torain and Andre Hall are going to somehow figure into the mix, and we already know Michael Pittman's role as that 3rd down back with the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Assessment: Draft Young as a #1 because going into the season, he's the man. But draft Torain as a handcuff just to be sure. In deeper leagues, you can consider Pittman as a decent backup flex because of his ball-catching prowess.
Detriot Lions: Some think that this is another RBBC-esque situation, but it might not be. Kevin Smith fits the Lion offense to a tee, and has looked superb in camp. Add to this that Tatum Bell, despite also looking good in camp, has never been able to carry any significant load. Assessment: Kevin Smith may end up being the best rookie in 2008. The fact that the Lion passing game will open up running lanes only helps. Tatum Bell, if you want to take the risk, could potentially be a decent fill-in flex back in PPR formats.
Green Bay Packers: With Ryan Grant now signed, this probably won’t be a RBBC or even RBBC-esque situation. Brandon Jackson could see some time spelling Grant, but probably not enough to warrant fantasy consideration. Assessment: Grant is being drafted as a #1 RB, and rightly so. But be wary of the QB situation.
Houston Texans: The Texans' situation is a bit like the Broncos, but with a major difference: Ahman Green, like Selvin Young, looks to be the starter. But unlike Young, Green is injury-prone. Following behind Green would be Chris Brown, who has injury issues himself. Steve Slaton is there, but I don't see him as the starter at any point. Slaton could turn out as a PPR sleeper though. Assessment: Draft Ahman Green if he falls, as he could be a steal if healthy. PPR league owners can draft Slaton as a late sleeper, as his one-cut ability suits the Texan offense and may be a very poor man's Reggie Bush this year.
Indianapolis Colts: Finally, a true one-back situation. This is Joseph Addai's job, unless he gets hurt. Sure, maybe the re-energized Dominic Rhodes gets a random carry here and there, but this is not the team to try and mine a backup/situational RB with upside. Assessment: Addai is a first rounder that can lead your team. Draft Rhodes only as a handcuff.
Jacksonville Jaguars: The "perfect" RBBC tandem, which we all know about from last year. Fred Taylor, if healthy, is one of the more under-rated RBs in the NFL. The Jags' offense is going to continue pounding the ball, despite the emergence of QB David Garrard. And everyone is again high on Maurice Jones-Drew, even after being projected as a top RB in PPR formats last year, and slightly disappointing. MJD will again be rated high by many owners, but the value is going to be with Fred Taylor. Assessment: MJD as a 2nd RB is solid, but many owners are drafting him as a #1. A healthy Taylor will again be a steal, but you might want to back him up with ultra-sleeper Chauncey Washington.
Kansas City Chiefs: I see the Chiefs' situation much like the Bills'. They have a good starter firmly entrenched, but said RB will have some injury risk. Larry Johnson, if healthy, can put up stellar numbers. It looks like they're going to try keeping him fresh (and healthy) by giving carries to rookie game-breaker Jamaal Charles. Assessment: LJ has some risk this year, but is worthy of a first round pick. I am not sure if Charles is merely the handcuff or a very deep sleeper (or both).
Miami Dolphins: Really difficult to know what to make of this situation at this point. It's going to take a bit more camp time to fully understand. Is Ronnie Brown back to 100%? How much work does Ricky Williams get? There are a couple of other interesting names here (Patrick Cobbs and Jalen Parmale), but will they amount to anything? Assessment: A mess, and perhaps it's Brown that ends up being the only draftable RB.
Minnesota Vikings: Don’t get me wrong, Adrian Peterson is a ridiculous talent and should be taken with the first few picks in all leagues. But the fact remains: he’s going to be part of an RBBC-esque running game. Chester Taylor looked great as the part-time, situational back in 2007. It kept Peterson fresh (after his long runs) and Taylor is hardly without talent. Assessment: Even in an RBBC-esque situation, Peterson is a top pick. Those that don’t have a top draft pick can still get in on the Viking run game by grabbing Taylor as a backup with the potential to be an every-week flex player.
New England Patriots: This may be more RBBC-esque than many are thinking. Yes, Laurence Maroney is the "starter", but the following 3 RBs are going to get looks in certain situations: Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk and the newly acquired Lamont Jordan. The problem is, we're not exactly sure how much work each of these guys is going to get. We know what Kevin Faulk is: a 3rd down back. Not sure what Sammy Morris is (or if he's 100% healthy) and we don't really know how Lamont Jordan is going to figure into the mix. Assessment: I am not high on Maroney but he's going to be drafted as a #2 RB and could put up alright numbers. I'm staying away from the situational guys unless they fall to the last rounds of PPR league drafts.
New Orleans Saints: Another one of the “original” RBBCs. With Deuce McAllister back (and looking lean and mean, mind you), the Saints will get back to what made their offense so deadly. Deuce will be the “power” back and Reggie Bush will find himself all over the field; as RB, split out, you name it. To keep these two fresh, you’ll see Pierre Thomas and Aaron Stecker on the field, but not enough to recommend drafting either one, unless you’re in a deep league. Assessment: Bush, in a PPR, has #1 fantasy back potential, but comes with a little risk. Deuce is probably the best value as a flex back with the potential to put up #2 fantasy RB numbers. It could be advisable to draft Thomas late if you own Deuce, and ditto with Bush/Stecker.
New York Giants: Another RBBC situation has arisen in the Big Apple. Brandon Jacobs should win out as the “starter”, but both Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw will get time in the Giant backfield. Ward will more than likely be the primary backup to Jacobs, and could spell the starter. Bradshaw, however, will be on the field in passing and other situations. He’s probably the best value of the bunch, as Jacobs (being drafted as a #1 RB) could easily disappoint. Assessment: If you can get Jacobs as a #2, congrats. But back him up with Ward. What is more advisable, though, is grabbing the RB with the most upside in PPR leagues: Bradshaw.
New York Jets: This might be a situation like the Browns' or Bengals. Thomas Jones is firmly entrenched as the starter and could put up solid numbers (after last year's dismal numbers), but the shifty Leon Washington is going to get situational looks. Another deep PPR sleeper. Assessment: Another one of those situations where the #1 is going to have a ton of value, but the situational guy is going to have PPR value.
Oakland Raiders: Going out on a limb here to bit to say this situation is going to be a lot like Jacksonville's; with Darren McFadden being a superb value in PPR leagues, but Justin Fargas will also have value. The only difference, however, is Oakland is not as good of a team as the Jags, so don’t expect McFadden to put up MJD numbers and Fargas to put up Taylor numbers. But it could be close. Assessment: Perhaps an undervalued situation, but don't go overboard. Fargas is actually a bit under-valued, much like Fred Taylor was last year, and could put up solid numbers as a flex RB. McFadden is a solid PPR value, but may go too high. Don't overpay.
Philadelphia Eagles: No RBBC or RBBC-esque situation here, although you have the “prototypical” RBBC back in Brian Westbrook, on the roster. Westbrook is “the man” for the Eagles, despite him being built like a change of pace back. Looks like Correll Buckhalter and newly-acquired Lorenzo Booker are really just glorified backups. Assessment: Westbrook’s a #1 fantasy RB. Everyone else are just handcuffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Another situation where both backs are going to have value. Willie Parker's coming off injury, but he's definitely the starter. Rashard Mendenhall is a do-it-all RB that will get looks. I actually like Mendenhall as much as the other top rookie RBs this year, despite having a solid #1 ahead of him. Assessment: Parker can't be relied upon as a #1, but he's a fine #2. Mendenhall is a perfect candidate to break out this year and could even serve as a decent flex backup even if Parker stays healthy.
St. Louis Rams: Another “easy” situation to analyze here. This is Steven Jackson’s team (well, as soon as he figures out his contract situation). Antonio Pittman could get limited looks, but nothing worthy of fantasy consideration. Assessment: Jackson’s a sure-fire #1 RB and no one else is worthy of a look.
San Diego Chargers: Like the Colts, the Bolts' situation is clear. This is LaDainian Tomlinson's team, and it would take an injury for that to change. Jacob Hester is being used all over the field, but isn't going to have fantasy value. Darren Sproles is a kick returner who may get some 3rd down looks. Assessment: LT's probably the best fantasy RB again this year and there won't be any other RB on this roster that will have value, unless LT gets hurt.
San Francisco 49ers: Somehow, I think Deshaun Foster, exiled from Carolina, figures into the Niner offense. Frank Gore should emerge as a pretty nice #1 fantasy back in Mike Martz’s system, but there may be enough room for two viable backs from this team. Yes, even as bad as the Niners will be. Assessment: Gore could end up as an elite fantasy RB, but I’d back him up with Foster. Those in deeper leagues may elect to take a stab at Foster in later rounds.
Seattle Seahawks: Ugh, I toiled over this write-up. Julius Jones comes to the Pacific Northwest with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, and some contend that his running style fits what the Seahawks are trying to do on offense. Maurice Morris has looked decent in fill-in duty, but really is just a backup. The team is supposedly having trouble finding where T.J. Duckett fits into the puzzle. Assessment: Avoid the situation unless you have an LT/AP/SJax/Westbrook type as your #1 and want to roll the dice with Jones as your #2. Preferably, Jones fits as a flex back.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Earnest Graham came on last season and certainly proved his worth. Despite the re-signing of Warrick Dunn (and the very similar Michael Bennett on the roster), Graham should earn the bulk of the carries, and is probably a bit underrated as a decent #1 fantasy RB. Dunn is going to be on the field in certain situations, and could return to his status as a PPR option. Assessment: Graham could end up as one of the best fantasy RBs outside the top tier of stud RBs. Dunn is an option in deeper PPR leagues.
Tennessee Titans: And to wrap up the AFC teams, maybe one of the most interesting AFC situations. Lendale White is the starter, but doesn't appear to be a featured back. Chris Henry was drafted last year to be the "lightning" of the "thunder & lightning" duo, but was sort of “blah” in limited action. The Titans then drafted Chris Johnson this summer, who is actually more lightning-esque than Henry. Johnson could be another poor man's Reggie Bush and will have value in all PPR leagues as a backup flex RB. Assessment: White is the perfect #2 RB, as he's gonna get his carries. The true value, though, is with Johnson.
Washington Redskins: Clinton Portis is the man here, but Ladell Betts – who’ll be the backup – could see spot duty. I’d only draft Betts, though, if I owned Portis. Assessment: Portis is being drafted as a #1 back, and he’ll more than likely put up those kinds of numbers. Betts was supposed to get more than a handful of carries last season, but was uninspiring. Look for him to get just a mere handful and serve as the backup in 2008.